This morning I reflected on my interest in the future of Humanity. People like me enjoy using sociological and technological information from the past and the present to project probable future events. My particular time span for future events seems to be in the range of twenty to one hundred years. I thought jokingly about descriptions of people born under my "sign" with regard to having one’s head in the clouds and specifically into the future more than the present. No, I do not believe any of the astrology crap, but I am indeed a futurist.
Reflecting further, I recognized that most other people, including some of my readers, do not necessarily spend much time outside the present in their thinking. Well, hey, someone has to live in the present to put food on the table, right? It does seem that consumption of time required to earn a living or to tend to children’s needs limits most of us to keeping focused on the present and on our specific roles in our chosen career and as spouses/parents. So it should be, for I wouldn’t want my surgeon dreaming about interstellar flight while merrily cutting me!
I was rather different from most of my age group while growing up. Perhaps it was my childhood interest in science fiction, or my recognition of the rapid growth of applied technology represented by automobiles, airplanes, radio and television, most of which had happened relatively early in my century. (Or maybe I was a budding nerd). Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and George Orwell (1984) caused me to read between the lines for all things I later read in books and newspapers or saw/heard on TV. Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA early in the 1950’s and the implications were obvious after reading Brave New World.
Basically, I grew to realize that our evolution is real and that human societies are not static when real science is used to implement progressive ideas. When lasers were discovered in 1962 I told my college friends that gross fear of thermonuclear war would end when we developed military lasers. Mostly, they scoffed at such a ridiculous idea, for at the time all lasers were very weak in transmitted power. I knew I was right, based on the technical evolution of radio and television and radar, but even my fellow science students lacked the ability to project into the future. You see, we learned that people standing too close to powerful radar dishes got cooked, so with collimated light generators (lasers) there was a means to focus light energy and send it great distances accurately … it was simply a matter of developing higher wattage lasers. We did.
I was also somewhat different from my peer group during my official working years. That is, I had a real knack for projecting major future consequences of actions at work on the part of corporate and lower management as well as my coworkers. I was uncannily accurate, and thus learned to trust my intelligence far more than most others I met along the way. Indeed, I found my circle of friends and other people that I highly respected to be rather small compared to the available population at work, regardless of job level. I simply didn’t value the limited thinking of most of the people around me, and I used my own high productivity against theirs as a gauge of the reasonableness of my thoughts. And I avoided large projects that had management attention as I knew they would result in quagmires.
I was also apolitical, which helped me not at all in terms of career advancement. On the other hand, my career advancement proceeded nicely based entirely on my creations and the strong positive responses from my customers. I sometimes found myself going head to head with upper management, in which I would state that my positions were founded on unarguable and decisive facts, and that with no disrespect intended, I could not support certain management judgments and plans. They were simply technically wrong in ways that guaranteed their failure no matter how much money or personal power they threw at the problems or opportunities that they thought they were intelligently addressing. I learned that people in power are often politically effective but seldom very bright in areas that mattered for progress. I was more than willing to pay the price of their occasional anger and the effects on my promotions and raises. I learned early that the only person I really had to respect was I, and I couldn’t do that by violating reality.
So it was that I became hooked on seeing the big picture. I had to know far more kinds of information pertinent to the business than my jobs required, if I was to be an expert overseer and an expert in the products I created. So I always approached any subject by going outside the box to understand it in context first, relative to the overall environment, and then in as much detail as was warranted based on my likely future involvement. That mode of behavior caused me to absorb concepts as well as facts from diverse business areas in a manner that would later support me having a broad and integrated understanding of our larger business and world events. Yes, I sure did ask a lot of questions of presumed experts and people in charge. I did a lot of reading as well.
My dedication to doing the right things in the best way became an obsession, such that I gradually became impatient with profound inefficiencies and errors of judgment on the part of those paid highly to be competent and effective. A seemingly endless series of poor management judgments eventually caused me to disassociate, in the sense that I knew various failures would occur that I was not empowered to stop. This more than anything else caused me to broaden my perspective outside the business world and start to think regularly about the progression of Humanity.
Thus, I directed my future planning approach to life to the broader concerns of Humanity. I became a futurist both by inclination and by conscious choice. I retired early because I had lost respect for the business environment from which I drew my income. I recall management telling me that I was the kind of employee they wanted to keep, and that they wanted the lesser contributors to retire instead of folks like me. Isn’t that a hoot? Well, if they had their act together there would not have been so many lesser contributors, and I had warned many managers and directors of the errors in their hiring practices over a span of twenty years. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face as I left; though in truth I felt very sad about human frailties and the terrible errors made in the company that had my total loyalty for so many years.
Did I ever fail in my predictions? Of course I did! Any time I tried to apply my thinking methods to the stock market I failed miserably … which told me that the true dynamic was outside my information base and not subject to any reliably consistent behavior. Thus it was that I began slowly to understand that the truth of one’s assumptions might not be realized in time anywhere near the moment of the making of the assumptions. Wait long enough and expected phenomena occur if the expectation basis is rational. But be impatient or lack any key piece of information and, well, one might as well bet on the lottery … or not bet at all. I know the taste of humble pie.
The point is that life is filled with opportunities and risks, and we can choose to exploit them wisely or, well, ignorantly. Human history is filled with examples of great enlightenment and corresponding examples in other times of abysmal ignorance. My inner driver for my writings today is to cut through the categorical mistakes we make in all societies and redirect our thinking towards progressive use of such useful knowledge as we do have. Those of you who know me through my writings will quickly realize that I have about the same level of respect for our political and business leaders today as I had for my upper management where I used to work. The best of them see slightly beyond the tip of their respective noses, while the worst have their heads inserted in a place without light and so see nothing.
So it is that I turn to myself to put the building blocks of life together to point the way to the future. Recognizing that the future could take any of many different directions, I am committed to identifying key directions I know we must take to grow beyond our historical limitations and errors. For now, the jury is out. I cannot know for certain what we will do, but I certainly can predict likely outcomes and make serious recommendations about which paths will lead to success. In the meantime I continue to learn by careful observation and analysis. Hopefully the quality of thinking from this futurist will only get better through time. Maybe.
I have always been results oriented, so it is easy for others who know me to understand my disdain for inefficiency. So it was that when first confronted with the challenge that those above me had far superior information from which to make the decisions and give me orders, I threw down the glove and let it be known that their decisions had to be proven right through time if I was to buy their argument and respect their judgments blindly. Results proved the sensibility of my position. Leaders are to be viewed as mostly well intended and temporary people whose decisions must be respected only up to the point where their plans and their results betray their foolishness. If intent is wholesome and results are good then respect should follow, but always with checks and balances, for all of us err in our thinking some of the time.
I challenge all of you to be results oriented in your view of life. Whether you are doing something with obvious and quick feedback, like cooking a meal, or whether your endeavors take time to bear fruit, the only rational way to get better is to look carefully and objectively at your results and make changes as appropriate. You don’t have be a futurist unless you are so inclined and talented, for we need far more people working intelligently in the present time frame just to keep us going. But always try to think about long range consequences when you plan for the future and especially when you vote.
I will understand if you are skeptical, for at times I think Humanity tries to steer the ship of life towards the future with baseball bats. Yes, if you visualize thousands of people in the water swinging bats at the ship from all sides you will understand why forward movement is so difficult. Think about the massive, do nothing human cargo inside and you will know why the ship moves so slowly. But think about the few who manage to get to the controls … they might figure out how to start the engines and steer. Without them, there is no reason to be a futurist.